Doing the Right Thing When It Is Hard: Living Your Ethics in Tough Situations.

Author:Kavanagh, Shayne

Giving Voice to Values: How to Speak Your Mind When You Know What's Right

Mary C. Gentile

Yale University Press 2010

320 pages, $19

Knowing the right thing to do is usually not that hard, but doing the right thing in the face of pressure to do the wrong thing or to look the other way can be very hard. In fact, ethical tragedies are often the result of people who sit silently on the sidelines, afraid or uncertain of what to do about a transgression. This is the premise of the book Giving Voice to Values by Mary Gentile, a professor at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business and creator/director of "Giving Voice To Values," an innovative approach to values-driven leadership development.

Most of the ethical guidance that public finance officers encounter comes in the form of ethical analysis, or distinguishing right from wrong. But Gentile believes that in many of the most common situations, most people already can distinguish between right from wrong, so what is needed to make ethical behavior more common is to help people act on the knowledge they already have. In fact, Gentile posits, most people want to live in accordance with their values and have successfully voiced their values in their lives at some point. This is a good starting point for helping people voice their values more often and more effectively.

Giving Voice to Values has seven foundational concepts: values; choice; normality; purpose; self-knowledge, self-image, and alignment; voice; and reasons and rationalizations.


Values are different from ethics. Ethics imply a set of rules that are provided by an outside entity and that you are expected to comply with. In contrast, values come from within. If the goal is to do the right thing, we will find moving with our highest aspirations and sense of self (i.e., values) easier than attempting to merely comply with an outside set of rules (ethics). Gentile encourages us to reflect on what our values are, suggesting that there will probably be a fair amount of convergence among people regarding key values. For example, cross-cultural studies have suggested values like honesty, respect, responsibility, fairness, and compassion are widely shared. GFOA's own research suggests that values related to trustworthiness are important among GFOA members.

Besides finding your own moral footing, you can appeal to values like those described above when making your case for a particular course of action. For instance, if a colleague in the finance department advocates for behavior that you consider questionable, you might appeal to the need for you both to maintain your trustworthiness as an argument against this course. Not everyone will share all of your values, so we shouldn't assume too much, but appealing to the core values that most people will agree with (as opposed to...

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